Social Emotional Development with Books

Want to help kids learn about empathy? Striving to make gains in socio emotional development? Want to teach kids acceptance? Want to work with children on friendship? Want to celebrate differences? I have a valuable tool to share with you! The great news is that guiding children to social development and emotional development as well as emotional literacy and social fluency is easy and fun! In this post, I’m sharing book activities to help kids develop skills in these very abstract concepts. Read a popular children’s book, talk about concepts, and do the play activity. It’s a powerful way to help kids thrive!

Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activites Based on Books about Friendship, Acceptance, and Empathy

Exploring Books Through Play is a guide to using books to help kids develop social emotional skills as well as other essential developmental areas (fine motor, gross motor, sensory exploration, handwriting, etc.) The book celebrates play-based learning with 50 unique, hands-on activities that explore social and emotional development, literacy, art, science, mathematics, sensory exploration, gross motor development and fine motor skills.

Books and activities about empathy, love, friendship for kids

Social Emotional Activities for Preschool

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You probably have seen book-related activities that I’ve shared in the past.  It all started with a group of amazing women who are the most inspiring and creative bunch out there.  Together, we shared hands-on learning and play activities that were inspired by simply awesome children’s books.


Here are just some of the great books we’ve read in the Preschool Book Club. Each book contains social emotional development activities for preschool (and older ages!) By using books to build socio-emotional development, kids can use concrete activities to develop abstract concepts.

social emotional development activities for kids through book activities.


Beautiful Oops– Use this book activity to help kids explore differences, acceptance, and individualism. In this book activity, we worked on visual motor skills, eye-hand coordination, fine motor work, and strengthening.


I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More – This book celebrates emotions and is a great starting point to emotional development. In this activity, we used sensory play to create art while working on eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, and more.


The Day The Crayons Quit– Kids can explore self-identity and self awareness in this children’s book. The book covers concepts such as differences, acceptance, and social norms. We explored the book with a fine motor activity that built awareness of self as well.


Freight Train – This mesmerizing book teaches basic concepts of shapes and colors. We used it in a food activity for kids to prepare a healthy snack. The book is a great one for identifying differences in shapes and colors and is a wonderful building block to awareness.


Ish –  In this children’s book activity, we used blocks to work on various motor skills such as eye-hand coordination, visual motor skills, visual perception, and fine motor work. The book is a fan favorite and teaches kids to accept themselves and not to be so self-critical. What a great starting point to social development!


Goodnight Moon  – This classic book for kids teaches kids about focus and imagination in a rhyming and calming manner. The book helps kids understand the imagination and addresses self-awareness and awareness of one’s surroundings. In our book activity, we worked on visual memory and concentration with a themed Memory game.


Little Blue and Little Yellow – This book helps kids understand color and builds fine motor skills when paired with play dough to act out the book. However, there are bigger social emotional development concepts at hand as well. Kids can discover emotional development awareness in the concepts of friendship, awareness of self and others, and identity. We used DIY puffy paint for an interactive book activity.


Elmer – This book helps kids understand differences, acceptance, and social roles. The book can be used to work on social development in children as they talk about things that make them and others special or different. The book is a tool in building empathy. We used the book to work on fine motor skills, visual perception, and visual motor skill development in a fun book activity.

The Kissing Hand– This book is a building block in helping kids understand emotions. They can read the book and become more aware of how others might be feeling, helping them to develop empathy as well. We created a key chain craft to use as a grounding tool for emotions kids might have.


There are so many more!


The group of us bloggers decided that we wanted to come up with a better way to share our book-related ideas.  With a real book of our own!

Exploring books through play is a guide to using children's books in therapy and while building developmental skills.

Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities Based on Books about Friendship, Acceptance, and Empathy


This book is full of creative learning and play ideas for kids and is based on amazing children’s books.  These activities will inspire acceptance of those around us, enhance friendship, and provoke empathy.

Social Emotional Development through Play

Check out the description on Amazon

“Exploring Books Through Play: Friendship, Acceptance and Empathy celebrates play-based learning with 50 unique, hands-on activities that explore social and emotional development, literacy, art, science, mathematics, sensory exploration, gross motor development and fine motor skills. The activities are inspired by 10 children’s books including “A Sick Day for Amos McGee”, “The Adventures of Beekle”, “Little Blue and Little Yellow” and “The Day the Crayons Quit.” Focusing on high quality children’s literature centered on friendship, acceptance and empathy, this book is designed to be used in home and school settings and is perfect for large or small groups. Ideal for children ages 3-8 years old, the activities can be adapted for multiple skill levels and developmental stages. As you work through the activities in the book children will naturally be discussing the characters, delving deeper into the lessons, bringing the stories to life and falling further in love with literature.”

Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activites Based on Books about Friendship, Acceptance, and Empathy

The books that are explored in this resource were intentionally chosen for their social emotional aspects.  Activities were designed that inspire learning and play through hands-on involvement.  


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Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activites Based on Books about Friendship, Acceptance, and Empathy

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Get the PRINT BOOK is available on Amazon for $26.99 


This is a book that, if I saw it on the shelves of a bookstore, I would grab it up and totally buy it.  The images are bright and colorful and the creative ideas are inspiring.  Not only are the hands-on play and learning activities easy and fun to do, but they each inspire children and families to think about actions, how others feel, and how small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness can make a big difference in the lives of others.


The special launch prices will run for only one week, so be sure to grab the deals today!


E-book:
Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities Based on Books about Friendship, Acceptance, and Empathy

Printed Book: Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities Based on Books about Friendship, Acceptance, and Empathy

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Beautiful Oops Book Activity

folded paper animals

This preschool book activity centers on fine motor skills with a concentration on awareness of differences, making mistakes, and not focusing on specific details, using a creative Beautiful Oops book activity. One part of social emotional development is the ability to “go with the flow”. Allowing ourselves to make mistakes and to adjust is a key part of maturity and a personality trait that can be difficult to teach unless given examples and practice. in this book activity, we read the book, Beautiful Oops! and created folded paper crafts using our mistakes.  

This book craft is part of a series of activities that help kids build social and emotional skills, as well as acceptance, friendship, empathy, and other important skills involved with social emotional development. For more activities that help build these skills, check out the resource, Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities Based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance and Empathy.

Book craft for Beautiful Oops folded paper animals process art.

Beautiful Oops Craft

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Have you read the book, Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg?  This is a book that we completely fell in love with.  The creative process of art spills out over the pages as little (and big) “oops” messes, tears, and folds become art.  While we do many crafts that are focused on an end product, process art is something we love in many creative projects!

Beautiful Oops! is a process art guide book.   As we read the book, one of our favorite pages was the folded corner Oops that became a reason to celebrate with a cute penguin.  We decided to make folded paper animals and couldn’t stop creating!

Folded paper animal crafts for kids based on the book, Beautiful Oops


Folded Paper Animal Crafts

We started with a big pile of assorted cardstock, a few pair of scissors and some glue.  We started with a fold on the corner of the paper and let our imaginations go!

We cut…

…and cut some more…  

…and folded…

…and glued…

…and added details to our animal creatures.

Beautiful Oops folded paper animal crafts
Folded paper animal crafts based on the book, Beautiful Oops

  We made a feeeew animals.

Folding paper Crafts

Use this craft to build fine motor skills! When kids fold paper, they work on a variety of fine motor skills. Click each link to read more about these specific skills and how they impact function.

Finger isolation

Hand strength

Arch development and intrinsic hand strength

Separation of the sides of the hand

Eye-hand coordination

Bilateral coordination

Fold paper to work on fine motor skills in the hands.
Monkey bookmark craft

  And then put our folded paper creatures to work holding pages in books!  

Paper bird bookmark craft
Penguin paper craft bookmark

  We had a blast with this book and can’t stop making our oops’ beautiful!   Looking for more activities and crafts based on Beautiful Oops!?  Try these from the Preschool Book Club:

Straw Blow Painting from Homegrown Friends

Painting on torn Newspaper from Buggy and Buddy

Circle and Holes Art from Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

Oops Painting from Mama. Papa. Bubba.

hands-on activities to explore social emotional development through children's books.

Love exploring books with hands-on play?  

Grab our NEW book, Exploring Books Through Play: 50 Activities based on Books About Friendship, Acceptance, and Empathy, that explores friendship, acceptance, and empathy through popular (and amazing) children’s books!  It’s 50 hands-on activities that use math, fine motor skills, movement, art, crafts, and creativity to support social emotional development.    

GET THE E-BOOK

Get the PRINT BOOK

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.